Tom Hunt column: We must tackle Ipswich's traffic issues - and don't write off a northern bypass
PUBLISHED: 07:30 14 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:18 14 February 2020
I am fairly sure that there is one thing we can all agree on - the level of traffic congestion in Ipswich is unacceptable.
There are different views on what should be done to tackle it but we know that something needs to be done.
I am of the view that part of the solution needs to be encouraging people out of their cars by providing them with attractive alternatives, whilst avoiding a "war on the motorist" mentality. However, I strongly believe that we also need to increase the road capacity in our area and part of this should involve the construction of the northern bypass.
Local reaction to the Highways England's Orwell Bridge report has been mixed. And to be honest my own response has been mixed.
I had pretty low expectations regarding the report, so I was glad that at the very least there does appear to be a speed limit solution on the horizon. This would allow us to avoid closures of the bridge due to strong winds from this time next year.
However, like many of my constituents, I am at a loss as why it took so long to publish the report and continue to believe that the task at hand isn't being approached with the degree of urgency needed.
Closures of the bridge have caused huge amounts of disruption to the lives of my constituents and have damaged the local economy.
I appreciate that it will take a period of time for the new reduced speed limit to be introduced on the bridge but Highways England must be aware that the patience of my constituents has been stretched to breaking point when it comes to their slow progress and drift.
Why, when we were promised the bridge report would take nine months to produce and it ended up taking 14, should we believe that Highways England will act at pace to implement the findings of the report?
It's also somewhat frustrating to be informed that after years of the bridge being closed the solution all along has simply been to knock 10mph of the speed limit. I can't help but think all these issues could have been looked into a very long time ago and that all the pain associated with frequent wind related closures of the bridge could have been avoided.
However, we are where we are and fingers crossed this time next year we will no longer be talking about frequent wind-related closures of the bridge. I have written to Highways England to raise concerns about their lack of urgency directly, and rest assured I will monitor developments closely to ensure that progress is swift and that non-wind related closures of the bridge are also addressed.
A few weeks ago, I made a speech in the House of Commons on the concept of "Global Britain". In this speech I made clear to the Government that traffic congestion in and around Ipswich is not simply an issue for those who live locally; if the problem is not addressed then it could end up capping the potential of our region and our country post-Brexit.
The last few weeks have been disappointing for those who, like me, believe that a northern bypass is needed.
We have had a business case published that has made it clear that in economic terms there is a strong case for the northern bypass (inner route). Far stronger, I would add, than the business case for HS2 which the Government has announced it will be proceeding with this week.
However, as a result of an ambitious housing requirement attached to the bypass by the Government, a number of local planning authorities essentially have a veto over the project and they've used it.
Nevertheless, giving up on the northern bypass would be a mistake. Those who have confidently written it off may well be proved wrong. It wasn't long ago that the opponents of the bypass were saying it wasn't needed, it's very hard for them to say that now with the business case that has been published.
The Government must consider two key facts.
First, as an area we have already taken on a significant amount of housing growth over the past few years.
Second, there has been a lack of infrastructure investment in our region as a whole over the decades by governments of all stripes.
Things can change quickly in politics and giving up on something I believe the town needs just a few months after my election to Parliament on that ticket is just not something I will do.
All options need to be explored to make swift progress on addressing traffic congestion within our Town and a range of different interventions are needed. But I will not fly the white flag regarding the northern bypass debate quite yet.